Given her manyaccomplishments, it might go unnoticed that Sparks center Lisa Leslie, whoplayed her final regular-season game on Sunday, had the best shootingpercentage this season (51.8) of her WNBA career. "That's what separatesSmooth," says Los Angeles coach Michael Cooper. "She is never satisfiedwith what she did last year."
Leslie, 37, whowill retire after the playoffs—the Sparks face the Storm in the WesternConference semifinals beginning Wednesday—has been working to improve herselfsince a middle-school tryout a quarter century ago in Compton, Calif. Playerswere divided into righties and lefties for layups; finding herself alone on thesouthpaw side, Leslie committed herself to becoming as deft with her right handas with her left. All she did after that was make herself into the bestback-to-the-basket center the women's game has ever seen.
The 6'5"Leslie also became a reliable outside threat, but that doesn't begin todescribe her impact on the WNBA. In her 12 years (she sat out the 2007 seasonafter giving birth to a daughter) Leslie was a two-time champion, a three-timeMVP, an eight-time All-Star, a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, and in2002 she became the first woman to dunk in a pro game. On top of that, she isthe only person on the planet who has won four consecutive Olympic basketballgold medals.
Along the way sheserved as the game's most recognizable face, a model of grace, dignity andcompetitiveness. "Lisa was impossible not to notice," Lynx guardCandice Wiggins wrote on the Los Angeles Times website last week. "Watchingher inspired me to compete."
Leslie didn'tenvision such a powerful legacy when she retired the first time, after the 1996Olympics, to pursue a modeling career. When the WNBA started a year later,Leslie viewed it as a minor diversion. "I thought, Oh, a little summerleague," she says. Thanks to her, it became much more.
SIGN OF THE APOCALYPSE
An animal-rescue group will donate five bags of dogfood to a Washington, D.C., shelter for every time Michael Vick is tackled whenthe Redskins play the Eagles next month.
DAVID SHERMAN/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (LESLIE)
CENTER OF ATTENTION Leslie's star power helped the league get off the ground.